Pauly Shore isn't a comedian, per se. He's a man whose entire life--every action, word and waking thought--has been comedy from the cradle to the grave.
"I've been around [comedy] since I was a baby," Shore said. "It was kind of destined."
Shore's father, Sammy, was a touring comic successful enough to open for Elvis. His mother, Mitzi, owns the famed Comedy Store in Los Angeles. He was breast-fed by Roseanne Barr and tucked in by Richard Pryor. At the age when most kids were getting a ride from their parents to the prom, Shore was getting one to his first comedy gig.
"I did really well for some reason," Shore said. "I was like, 'Fuck, this is easy.' And then the next time, I bombed, and my dad was like, 'Welcome to comedy.'"
With Shore's heritage, his connections and sense of humor, he eventually reached a level of success. He started doing small film roles and working as a VJ on MTV. That job gave Shore's persona, The Weasel, enough visibility to earn him a breakthrough role in the 1992 comedy Encino Man, followed by a series of films that left him hopelessly typecast.
Though Shore never stopped doing stand-up or acting, it became steadily harder, his oeuvre reduced to a series of stoner catchphrases and his roles reduced to cameos.
"I can't even get a job in a small part in a movie anymore, 'cause The Weasel was so strong," he said in a stand-up clip on YouTube. "Like, if I was in a medieval movie, know what I mean, like Braveheart with hundreds of horses on the cliff, people are crying, watching the movie and then all of the sudden, 'What the fuck is Pauly Shore doing in that?' That's how strong it became."
Frustrated, depressed and unable to escape his identity, Shore wrote and shot the satirical mockumentary, Pauly Shore is Dead (2003), the story of Shore faking his suicide and America's reaction.
"It's basically a film that I made when I was at a place in my life and my career and internally when I felt like the jig was up," he said. "Instead of looking at the run I had with my films, instead of looking at it like, 'That was awesome,' I took the opposite direction."
Despite being a low-budget affair Shore financed himself, the film features a rogues' gallery of A-listers--in many cases, Shore's friends from high school. Sean Penn struggles to remember Shore's name while referencing his film Bio-Dome over drinks. Chris Rock looks into the camera and tells Shore to stay dead. Kurt Loder apologizes to the American public for covering Shore's death on MTV News.
The film is equal parts ego-stroking and self-effacing schadenfreude, but it bizarrely demonstrates a struggle many comedians face: to be taken seriously.
Despite many funny moments, as a whole, Pauly Shore is Dead was something of a flop, so Shore refocused on stand-up.
"I have to tour or else I get sick," he said.
And tour he does. An average of half the year, according to Shore.
"Clubs, theaters, colleges. I do best where there are people in seats," Shore said. "I don't care where it is. I'll perform in front of a soap box."
Shore said it's inescapable that the crowd knows who he is from his movies and has certain expectations. But rather than run from who he was 20 years ago, he uses The Weasel's legacy self-referentially to make a connection with the audience, instead of relying on his alter-ego as a crutch.
"Most people that come to see me, they expect, they know me from my movies, and they don't know anything about me as a human being," he said. "So what I try to do is get more autobiographical and tell stories about my childhood."
Shore said the stories are relatable because their themes are not that uncommon.
"Lots of people have parents that divorced," he said. "Lots of people have dads that fooled around."
But Shore's lifetime of celebrity also gives his tales a unique twist. Shore gets misty-eyed talking about little league, but in Shore's childhood, Bob Dylan's kid was on his team and the legendary songwriter was in the stands.
"I could sit and watch TV and come up with material but anyone could do that," Shore said. "Every year, the ante gets higher. It gets harder to do material that only I can do. Because everyone can talk about so many things. But that makes it just funny. I want it to be unique and I want to be funny."
Shore said that whether his act resonates with audiences can vary, but it's more interesting to him as a performer.
That said, he's still hopeful to get a meatier acting role at some point.
"I'm in the same kind of boat as a lot of comedians, where it just takes that one producer or director to say, 'I'm going to put that one person you wouldn't expect into that role,'" he said.
Shore sees the riveting performance by comedian Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) in the drug-running drama Blow as the perfect example of what he could be capable of. But he also isn't going to sit around waiting for that call. There's already a draft for Shore's next project, an indie-drama that he's getting ready to pitch to investors.
And like always, he'll keep doing stand-up. He has to.
"Comedy isn't something you choose," Shore said. "It chooses you."